What You've Got is What You've Got to Give
On 9/11, Mr. O'Kitten was moments away from getting on the World Trade Center train from Hoboken to go to school when the first plane hit, and watched the second plane strike from the Hudson River's edge--a distance of perhaps a mile.
Then he walked the four blocks home to me, and we spent much of the day on the riverbank, watching the completely horrific and unreal events unfold right before our eyes. We went the hopsital to give blood, but they weren't set up to take donors yet. We put our names on a list. We wanted to go into the city and help, but we couldn't get across the river. We called family and friends and told them we were okay. I fed and walked my friends' dog; I knew they both worked close to Ground Zero. I wondered how and when (and if) they'd make it home.
Everyone wanted to do something--anything. Many people gathered, impromptu, in downtown parks and began building stretchers. No one knew that morning that the stretchers wouldn't be needed. But I'm sure it was satisfying to be doing something.
There are many stories that will always stay with me from that day, and the many long days, weeks, and months that followed. But the one that moved me the most concerns a man with a shoe store near Ground Zero.
What everyone saw on television--what made for the most exciting television--were the throngs of people running away from monstrous billowing clouds of toxic asbestos, pulverized sheetrock, and concrete dust.
But what you didn't see was the rest of the evacuation--the majority of Lower Manhattan heading north. Calmly, stoically, helping whomever needed it along the way, people began to move. Like a small sea, the tens of thousands of people who had been in Lower Manhattan that day, doing whatever it was they had been doing--working, shopping, running an errand--began to walk. And they would have to walk for miles.
"Just head North," they were instructed. "Head away from the Towers." Friends who were there that day told me that everyone very calmly began to proceed northward, up the avenues, and slowly across the bridges to the outer boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx.
And then there was the man with the shoe store. Because many of the women were dressed for work, he gave them sneakers to wear for the long walk. He gave away every pair of comfortable shoes he had. I picture the women gratefully leaving their dress shoes, their heels, and every single pair of uncomfortable pumps behind, and taking far more suitable shoes from the shoe store man for the long walk (and who knew how long) to wherever they'd have to go, whenever they'd get there.
He had shoes, and shoes were what he gave them. But on that day, it was a priceless gift.
Peace be with you.